Although it is a long, slow battle and there is still a long way to go, developments with regard to the Eastside railroad (known more formally as the "Woodinville Subdivision") continue to be generally positive. For example:
1) King County's plan to swap Boeing Field for the Eastside railroad and then scrap the railroad increasingly appears to be doomed. (Outrage over this initially widely hailed but senseless plan is, of course, what led to the founding of Eastside Rail Now!)
2) The number of visitors to the Eastside Rail Now! web site continues to grow at a brisk pace. This is an indication that more and more people are becoming aware that something is going on and want to become more informed about the issues.
3) Statements of support (particularly off-the-record ones) from public officials continue to increase. Apparently there are very few officials who are strongly in favor of removing the tracks. And some officials who had no strong opinions at first are increasingly seeing the folly of scrapping the railroad as they learn more about the issues.
3) The media has been giving fairly balanced coverage (although there is still room for improvement, especially with regard to frequently repeated factual errors and misleading statements about the railroad). For example, there have not been many articles recently stating or implying that dismantling the railroad is almost a "done deal." And there have not been any articles recently saying things to the effect that "Wow, this is a really great idea to rip out the rails for a bicycle trail." But there is still considerable confusion between the two very different concepts of preserving the corridor and preserving the railroad.
4) Sound Transit board members and other Sound Transit officials have become acutely aware of the strong public support for starting transit on the railroad, much more so than is reflected in the recent token amendment (#10) to ST2, which merely calls for studying the railroad. This awareness is, of course, important for several reasons, including the fact that Sound Transit might eventually purchase the railroad.
5) There is much dissatisfaction among the public with the November ballot measures as they stand now for a variety of reasons, including their extremely high cost, disregard for the environment (particularly in the case of the road measures) and ignoring some obvious, low cost solutions. ST2 alone will actually cost an astonishing $23 billion when rising costs and financing costs are included, according to Friday's P-I article. Add another $20 billion for the roads measure. This makes Boston's infamous $12 billion Big Dig and the ill-fated Seattle Monorail fiasco look like small change. Plus nobody is even pretending that the road projects will really reduce congestion.
Recently the Sierra Club, which has much influence among the many of us who are concerned about the environment, came out against the roads measure (as Eastside Rail Now! has been from the start). If those measures fail (both must pass for either to become effective), it will likely be good for the Eastside railroad (and for the region as a whole), because it will show that the voters want solutions that are low cost, good for the environment, quick and effective. That is exactly what the railroad can provide.
6) Gas prices continue to rise, and could soon reach or surpass $4.00 per gallon. Although still cheap by European standards, this would be bad for many people who rely on automotive transport. But there is also a very positive side to this. It will promote the use of transit and will make solutions such as the Eastside railroad even more attractive. It will also help reduce sprawl and lead to the development of compact, walkable neighborhoods (which, in turn, will make rail transit even more attractive). It will help slow the deterioration of air quality and climate change. And it will help conserve what many experts are convinced are declining oil reserves.
Thanks to everyone for your hard work in making this progress a reality!
There was some excellent testimony by the public at Thursday's Sound Transit Board Meeting, just as there was at the previous one. The testimony was almost all in favor of expanded rail transit, which, of course, can be a very good thing if it is done in a cost-effective manner. But a large part of it was also about preserving the Eastside railroad and starting transit on it. This shows how important the railroad is to the future of the region and what great concern there is about it. (Note that Eastside Rail Now's official testimony is available on the website.)
Several Sound Transit Board members sponsored an amendment to ST2 to study the railroad for possible future transit use. This is, unfortunately, far weaker than what Eastside Rail Now! and All Aboard Washington have proposed. However, it is significant in that it is a big step forward from Sound Transit's previous posture of virtually ignoring the railroad in their plans. We also have to remember that Sound Transit has been working on their plans for about two years, and it is very difficult for such a large organization to make sudden changes, especially given the diversity of views on the Board.
The Sound Transit press release for this meeting is available at www.soundtransit.org/x5513.xml. Notice mention of "the BNSF corridor in East King County" for a "future phase," which means that it would be after the planned completion of other projects in the year 2027. (But we strongly suspect that it will happen much, much sooner.)
Our web site continues to improve. Among the newest additions are: Eastside Rail Now's Testimony at the April 26 Sound Transit Board Meeting, FAQ: Track Condition, The Eastside Railroad in the Media and Comparison of Seattle Area With Leeds (UK) (thanks to Loren Herrigstad).
The FAQ about the track is important because there has been much misinformation about it. This FAQ sets the record straight, explaining how the track is actually in rather good condition, not the "poor" condition mentioned by some public officials and in some press accounts. (Thanks to those experts on railway track who have devoted much time surveying the railroad for Eastside Rail Now! and providing an objective report on its condition.) The allegedly "poor" quality of the track along with its "sharp curves" is, at least superficially, the reason that a few public officials want to rip it out as quickly as possible.
Among the recent updates is Scenes Along the Eastside Railroad, which provides a brief graphic tour of the railroad. This section is important because it helps introduce the railroad to the many people in the area who are only vaguely familiar with it. The latest additions, which include an image of a double stack freight train roaring through Bellevue, help to illustrate that the Eastside railroad is a living, working and productive (as well as very scenic) railroad rather than just the dilapidated stretch of track as portrayed by its opponents.
One Bellevue resident who an Eastside Rail Now! member talked to about helping to save the railroad said: "The reason that they want to get rid of it is that they want make Bellevue look modern." This seemingly otherwise intelligent person (who has a Masters degree) should perhaps become a bit more worldly. Railways are very much a part of the future in the rest of the world, and we are decades behind here. For anyone who doubts this, take a look at this recent article about Japan's new super-fast magnetic trains, which will be launched while Sound Transit will still be struggling to build a glorified, gold plated streetcar line to Bellevue. Of course, we don't need super-fast magnetic levitation trains here, but we could learn a great deal from the much simpler and far less expensive conventional rail lines that form the transit backbone in Japanese and European cities.
We talk to many new people on a daily basis as part of our aggressive outreach program. And among the most frequent questions that keeps coming up is who we really are and what we are trying to accomplish. Most recipients of this newsletter already know, but for those of you who don't . . .
Eastside Rail Now! was started in early January 2007 by a group of very ordinary (writer, artist, housewife, small business owner, computer geek, retail employee, etc.) Eastside residents who were outraged to learn that King County was planning to rip out our railroad and replace it with a bicycle trail. And, what's more, King County wanted to do it at a cost of perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars to us hardworking taxpayers.
Most of us are not really railfans (although we obviously don't dislike trains). Rather, we could best be described as people who are concerned about the quality of life and the future of our region. We are also conservatives, at least in the sense of Teddy Roosevelt -- that is, we want to conserve our environment, we don't like to see our money wasted, and we believe in clean and transparent government. (Maybe this describes most Americans.) We also want balanced transportation instead of just an endless flood of cars and sporadic busses, so that people can have real choices. And we want to take positive action about our deteriorating air quality and global heating.
The railroad is part of our community, and has been for more than a century. It carries freight (our count shows much more than the 900 cars per year quoted in some press reports) and the dinner train, which has been good for the local economy. Even more important, it has an outstanding potential for providing rail transit at a very low cost, quickly and with minimal environmental disruption. (Some of us have spent time in Europe and Japan and we know about how wonderful good transit can be.) And we are particularly fortunate that it parallels I-405, which has the dubious distinction of being the most congested freeway in the Northwest -- and whose congestion and pollution will only get worse. A taste of L.A.
Occasionally people will ask us why we dislike bicycles. The answer is, we don't! In fact some of us ride them regularly, or at least used to when we were younger and before traffic became so bad. Bicycles can be very good for the environment and are a great form of exercise. And having a quality rail service that accommodates bicycles, such as is common in Europe, adds greatly to the convenience and joy of riding bicycles. All we are saying is that a working railroad that contributes to the local economy (including supporting local jobs and paying taxes) and which could carry tens of thousands of riders a day should not be ripped out at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to the taxpayers to be replaced by a bicycle trail that would be used by a few hundred riders a day -- when it isn't raining. (And this is not what the federal rails-to-trails legislation intended.) In fact, some hard core environmentalists suggest that it might be a better idea to close some lanes on I-405 to car traffic and convert them to bicycle lanes. We do not go to that extreme, but the point is that there are much better solutions for accommodating bicycles (and pedestrians) than scrapping the railroad.
Actually, we do not believe that the real reason behind wanting to rip out the tracks is bicycles. Rather, that is just a pretext (and a very clever one). We suspect that there are some strong special interests that have ulterior motives for getting rid of the tracks (and most of them do not ride bicycles).
The next general meeting will be May 1 at the usual time and location (7:00 p.m. at Starbucks on NE 8th St. across from Nordstrom and next to See's Candies in downtown Bellevue). As always, there will be a lot to talk about. Among the topics to be discussed will be (1) the recent Sound Transit Board Meeting and the November ballot measures, (2) stopping the planned severing of the track in Bellevue later this year, (3) plans for further increasing support for retention and upgrading of the tracks and (4) expanding cooperation with other environmental groups, neighborhood associations and political action groups.
For those of you who may not have attended yet, the meetings are small and casual, with a dozen to 20 people showing up. This is a good size because it gives everyone who wants to a chance to talk and/or ask questions. Each meeting is different and brings some interesting surprises. Everyone is welcome, as we like to hear a variety of views.
General meetings are held on the first and third Tuesday of every month. We also have other meetings, including working meetings and informal discussions among just a few members.
Please do not hesitate to send us your suggestions for future issues. We also welcome constructive criticism. And be sure to let us know if you want to be removed from our mailing list, or if you are not a regular recipient but would like to be added to it. We can be reached at info at eastsiderailnow.org
This page created May 1, 2007.
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